Monday, 20 December 2010

Ai Weiwei: Jump the Barrier

12 October 2010 – 2 May 2011
Ai Weiwei's ceramic seeds (left) next to real sunflower seeds (right)

There is a tendency to review exhibitions before they really begin. Yes, one can get a glimpse of the artist/curator’s intentions but only time can unravel how comfortably it will sit with the pubic. Michael Landy’s bin, for example, constructed at South London Gallery earlier this year, never managed to fill up and that half-full image of it has stuck. Today we are about half-way through Ai Weiwei’s turbine hall exhibition and very few had sat down to discuss how the sequence of events may have significantly changed the work.

Michael Landy's empty bin at South London Gallery, 2010
When it opened, it was just another exhibition to fill the huge space that is the Turbine Hall.  Less than a week later, it was shut off to the public with a health & safety scare. I understand dust to be dangerous and the huge quantities of people who visit the Tate Modern daily would certainly make it so. However, where there was supposed to be open space, there has become a no access area. That’s the point at which we first visited the exhibition. Its strange how a thin piece of string can hold the masses back, we thought. My friend leant over and took a couple of seeds home.
A week later, the edges of the work had been swept about a metre further away from the string. Apparently no one was allowed to take one home.  But what does this have to do with the dangers of dust? Security guards stand by the artwork - you know you should be allowed to step over and touch the seeds but the thought of being publicly disciplined is holding you back. I find it hard to believe Ai Weiwei would not want visitors to keep one seed to remind them of his work. Whereas Unilever (the sponsor), I imagine, has other ideas. 
‘Ai Weiwei – without fear or favour’, reads the title of an Imagine programme exploring the artist’s work. The same should be true for us. I doubt this was the intention, but being closed off, the work now says something different but not less relevant. For anyone who has also dared to jump the barrier to the seeds, I have to say the feeling was one of incredible freedom. It takes some courage and backbone even though there are no actual repercussions, unlike for many people who disobey authority in China. It has some direct parallels to the political landscape in so many countries, where reasons are fabricated to direct people away from even contemplating certain options and lead them by the nose towards other ‘accepted’ ones. I am not saying the Tate had fabricated the dust story, but if it had, it would have made one of the most gutsy and controversial exhibitions of the year. As an experiment to see how many people dared to defy authority to do what they all knew the artist had intended.
Ai Weiwei’s work is deeply entangled with the oppressive regimes and how they can create boundaries for the mind. I think that the only way to enjoy his Turbine Hall installation is to challenge the stiff authority of our own factory-like art institution and to run across the seeds. The experience may awaken us to all the other rules we take for granted in our own society.

Watch a BBC Imagine Documentary on Ai Weiwei here until 28th Dec 2010.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Foods That Make Billions

Brilliant but often depressing story of advertising ploys and the development of huge brands for completely uniform and low value products. The three-part series starts off with 'Liquid Gold', all about the bottled water industry of course, something which flows out of the tap for free. Admittedly, the industry is now indispensable as people got used to and rely on the convenience. However, the original brand Perrier was the first to lure the somewhat straight-laced business elite of the 1980's to order sparkling water as a drink to have when dining out. What is interesting is the level of development this programme follows, spanning several decades and the changing landscape brands evolved with. The next two episodes are on Breakfast serials and Yoghurts (to be aired on Tue 7th Dec 2010, 9pm, BBC)

BBC iPlayer links:
Liquid Gold
The Age of Plenty

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Pistol that Whistles? - Mark Bradford at White Cube

13 Oct - 13 Nov 2010

For his first London solo exhibit, Mark Bradford takes inspiration from a phenomenon which has travelled to all major developed cities: urban flypostering, graffiti, remnants of advertising spaces as well as the democratic reclamation of street space. Ironically, Hoxton has grown up as an area largely due to the creative influences of subversive and promotional unofficial posters as well as the presence of graffiti. So whilst it used to be common to seeing ripped posters, the council has stamped this ‘illegal’ activity altogether and stamped the final breath out of the once trendy and exciting neighbourhood.

Mark Bradford has been one of a series of artists shown at White Cube, Hoxton, that deal with globalisation in one form or another. Franz Ackermann, several months ago, did it more explicitly, by defining himself as being directly influenced by mass consumerism and the powerfully distracting and often painfully conflicting messages of contemporary life. Whilst Bradford also seems to be influences by mass media, advertising and decaying artefacts these leave behind, we have to take it on trust that the materials such as poster paper from the streets and broadsheet are imbued with a history of their own.
However, unlike Ackermann who for argument’s sake experiences the world in all its digital and confusing glory and then tries to recreate for the viewer a visual expression from scratch that captures the feeling of contemporary living. Bradford does the complete opposite – the use of broadsheet newspages and poster paper as materials is just that they are materials, no different from paint. Whilst perhaps this is a hint at their disposable nature, all content is obliterated from the acid-free pages and Bradford projects onto it an abstract artistic vision.

In ‘Field of Miracles’, Bradford succeeds in condensing the often ugly and yet beautiful effects created by torn layers of poster paper that resemble the abstract beauty of the banal waste product of mass media and advertising.. Appearing to be somewhere between the grains of natural rock layers and concrete slabs of an artificial world, Bradford shows us the most unnatural settings can still resemble the beauty and randomness of nature. The works themselves are part crafted and part chance as the layers of paper are torn into patterns.

However, the quality of his other canvasses disappoints. Rather than conveying the dislocation and disjunction we are told he has tried to do, his use of the same rounded ‘Mark Bradford’ fonts is formulaic and often speaks with the same visual voice. A graphic designer might have understood better that fonts are far from simply decorative – they have the power to scream, shout and whisper lovingly to us. The disunion between posters on a single street is what creates the feelings of tension, disunion and dislocation.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Renaissance Revolution with Matthew Collings

This is a must-see for any aspiring painter or anyone willing to take a plunge into art history. Matthew Collings presents his best-yet exploration of the techniques and practices of a trio of giants in Renaissance art: Michael Angelo, Leonardo and the flamboyant Raphael. From the start, something is not as we expect it. The soundtrack, style of narration and deep plunges into the surprising details of paintings are all thoroughly contemporary and even revolutionary for a documentary format. All elements make this one of the most engaging encounters with the details of Renaissance painting for me.

watch it on bbc iplayer.....

Friday, 3 September 2010

Stephen Fry: Secret Life of the Manic Depressive

Stephen Fry (best known for QI/Quite Interesting quiz series) presents this two part journey to explore the effects of manic depression, whilst re-telling his own story of being diagnosed with the condition 10 years ago. He interviews others affected with manic depression or bipolar disorder and travels to the US, where children as young as 4 years old are being prescribed heavy medication. It is certainly an fascinating look into the brilliant, manic and genius highs as well as the dulling, slow crippling lows of people affected. It is interesting to note that many would not choose to go without manic depression, because the manic stage is so incredible.
Unfortunately, everyone who has seen it with me is now convinced that they are too slightly manic depressive - so beware!

Here is supposedly the whole first part on Youku: watch PART 1of2

Also here's another link to the programme on Veoh: watch

Otherwise here's a clip:

Monday, 30 August 2010

Visions of the Future

Three episodes on latest developments in science: bio, chem & phys. Ideas are all pretty well communicated, however it is a year or so old now. Amazingly, this is the documentary that introduced me to Dr Craig Ventor, credited with creating the first synthetic (man-made) living cell. He lived up to his promise and did it as he said he would about 8 months or so later. Science always raises fascinating questions about God, our purpose and our place in the universe so its well worth watching if you're at all philosophically minded. Read the BBC synopsis here.

Below are some short clips from the series.

1. The Intelligence Revolution

 2. The Biotech Revolution

3. The Quantum Revolution (There is presently a repeat on BBCiplayer of one of the episodes)

here is a clip too:


"In this century, we are going to make the historic transition from the ‘Age of Discovery’ to the ‘Age of Mastery’, a period in which we will move from being passive observers of nature to its active choreographers” Dr Michio Kaku (documentary writer & presenter)

Friday, 27 August 2010

History of NOW - The Story of the Noughties!

This three part documentary was shown on BBC in January 2010 and explores trends of the last ten years. Perhaps I found this quite poignant because it's the first decade I remember clearly from start to finish, or because it is the decade of overhype, being the first of the new millenium. If you don't mind ignoring some pretty annoying flashy graphics and like the voice of the Jess from Peep Show...

Either way, if you are interested in trend-spotting this has some general and amusing observations which we may have failed to digest, this is worth seeing. Differences in culture, globalisation, the rise of China, perception of youth and countless other ways our lives are different from what they were before. Naturally, being made by BBC it is focused on a particularly British perspective. First episode is generally the most interesting with these things!

1. Growing Young
2. All Together Now
3. Hello World

Here is a clip on 'How China put Britain’s Burglars out of Business'

Another clip on 'How the Cold War Gave us Cheap Flights'

Best place to find the whole thing might be on torrentz or thebox